The city’s municipal court has its first chief judge in its 10-year history, as Judge Donald Schaefer was appointed by the City Council Sept. 6.

Schaefer, a Roswell attorney, also serves as chief judge for the city of Johns Creek.

Donald Schaefer, the chief judge of Sandy Springs Municipal Court. (Special)

The Sandy Springs court has five part-time judges, also including Joseph Burford, Sharon Dickson, Marcie Ernst and Candiss Howard. Mayor Rusty Paul said earlier this year that he had an ad hoc “judicial committee” review the court operations and that it was found to be working well. But the committee recommended naming one judge to a new “chief” position to handle administrative tasks—at no extra cost.

Schaefer’s appointment as chief judge will run through 2017, to match the mayor and council’s terms.

Exactly why the court did not previously have a chief judge is unclear, with memories varying. As an advisory memo from City Attorney Wendell Willard to the City Council noted, the state’s Uniform Rules for municipal courts essentially assume that there will be a chief judge.

Paul recalled that former Mayor Eva Galambos did not want a chief judge on the principle of equality and avoiding a “first among equals” position.

Larry Young, a former city judge, said that Galambos blocked the court’s own attempt to select a chief judge in 2006, apparently due to some form of political friction, and that a Charter Commission later also recommended creating the position, to no avail.

“[Chief judge] is intended to be indeed an administrative post to provide a contact point with the Georgia Judicial Council for all courts in Georgia,” Young said of the need for the position. “It also is the person who decided recusals that might not be clearly determined when a judge is challenged…I believe it also takes some control away from the solicitor’s office and puts it in the hands of the judiciary where it belongs.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.